Puglia – Ostuni
Sitting atop a hill overlooking a verdant valley of olive trees and the shimmering Adriatic Sea beyond, Ostuni sparkles in the morning sunshine. Its white-washed houses huddle together in a nest of intertwined, winding lanes. For us, it’s love at first sight! Warm, lyrical, haphazard, and utterly captivating.
Park your car in a lot below the Centro Storico and call a ‘cab,’ which in Ostuni is an open-sided tuk-tuk that spins around the sharp bends, weaves its way around tourists, and bounces along the cobblestones, as its feisty driver whisks you to your destination. Welcome to Ostuni.
Stroll the web of streets, browse the stores, visit the churches, and stop in at my favorite find: Acquisito – 5 Via Cathedrale – a boutique where you can find one of a kind inexpensive jewelry, and scarves with silver medallions attached, which make for great gifts.
From Acquisito, walk up Via Cattedrale to Via Pietro Vicenti – and have lunch at an outdoor table set on the narrow cobbled lane, at Osteria La Vispa Teresa. Soak up the atmosphere and enjoy their fresh seafood dishes. The interior of the restaurant is designed with Italian flair, the walls are hung with work by artists from the region, and the atmosphere is cozy and romantic.
All roads inevitably lead to Piazza della Liberta. A vast, impressive expanse, paved in creamy oatmeal-colored tiles. The piazza is lined with restaurants, cafes, and bars, and watched over on one end by the 18th Century Baroque Obelisco di S. Oronzo (dedicated to Sant’Oronzo who protected the town from plagues and famine) and on the other end by Chiesa di San Francesco.
Settle into an outdoor restaurant on the piazza in the evening, a cappuccino or a glass of vino rosso in hand, and savor the glow of the White City when the lights bathe it in a palette of cognac, silver, and gold.
There is an array of B&Bs, boutique hotels, guest houses, and apartments for rent in Ostuni. We always search out authentic places choc-full of charm that speak to us of the history of the town. i7Archi (The Seven Arches Guesthouse), owned by a delightful couple – Giorgio and Graziana – is tucked into a historic street – Via Boxio, which dates back to the 14th Century. To this day, the street is referred to by the elders of Ostuni as 7 Arches Street as there are, in fact, 7 ancient arches on this narrow cobblestone street, each one different in shape and design.
Giorgio and Graziana have preserved the integrity of the original house while adding pops of color and a great deal of comfort with their carefully conceived interior design.
Outdoors, geraniums and petunias cascade out of clay flowerpots, against a backdrop of whitewashed walls.
We stayed in a Deluxe Studio on three levels: A cozy bedroom and small sitting area on the first floor; a kitchenette and bathroom with a great shower on the second floor; and an outdoor terrace on the third floor that offers up a view of the valley and the blue Adriatic Sea beyond. (Not the ideal suite if you have trouble with steps). If you want to experience the authentic Old Town of Ostuni, i7Archi is a gem.
We had wondered why we always encountered groups of tourists clustered around their guides outside Ristorante Brillo on Via Boxio just a few minutes from our guesthouse, only to discover that an olive press, dating back to the medieval period, was uncovered beneath the restaurant where today the aromas of delectable Italian cuisine greet the visitors.
Step into the ancient history of Ostuni, dine in this atmospheric, underground historic restaurant, and in between courses visit the oil press where centuries ago mules walked around in circles for hours on end working the press and crushing olives into golden liquid.
Also, on Via Boxio, keep an eye open for the tiny workshop of a gentleman who carves cooking spoons out of olive wood. He’ll be happy to proudly show you his craft and even happier if you purchase a spoon. A terrific utensil to have in your kitchen, which will always remind you of the charm of the narrow, whitewashed lanes of Ostuni.
If you are driving through Puglia, Ostuni is a great base for a few days. From here you can explore Alberobello famous for its ‘trulli’; Locorotondo – one of the most gorgeous towns in Puglia – with its blinding white ‘Cummerse’ – rectangular-shaped buildings with sloping roofs; Martina Franca with its exquisite Baroque palazzos, churches, and wrought-iron balconies, and Cisternino, with its highly polished stone floors, arches, piazzas, and winding stairways.
Ostuni is also only 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the crystal clear, turquoise waters, and some of the most beautiful beaches of the Ionian coast. So pack your bathing suit, and don’t miss some quiet time taking advantage of yet another Puglia highlight.